Encourage your student to take a fresh look at herself – through someone else’s eyes*

​Not long ago, I had the opportunity to work with a charming young lady on her resume. I frequented a coffee shop she worked at, and we had gotten to know each other. Since I used the coffee shop as my temporary office and was working on resumes anyway, I offered to help her with her own resume.

Now this young lady – let’s call her “Ann*” – did not have a lot of work experience. She had just completed her freshman year at a local community college, wasn’t sure what she wanted to major in, and only had one other job prior to the coffee shop. She had never created a resume before because she didn’t think she had anything to put on one. And while she was excited to work with me on this process, she was also convinced the end result would be less than stellar, given her lack of experience up to this point.

The first step I have clients go through when creating a resume is having them complete a very detailed questionnaire, which walks them through the process of reviewing their past experiences and accomplishments. Once complete, students submit their questionnaire to me for review. Then we meet and discuss their answers. At first glance, Ann’s responses to the questions did indeed seem limited. But when I came back to the questionnaire later in the day for a thorough analysis, I was pleasantly surprised. While it was true she had few paid experiences and hadn’t yet completed any major projects for class assignment or taken on a campus leadership role, the “volunteer” section of the questionnaire was completely filled out. When we met to discuss her answers, we spent a long time talking about all her volunteer activities. It turned out, Ann had been volunteering in one capacity or another for over half her life!

After our meeting, I created a resume for Ann. Then we met again for her to review it. At first, I was slightly concerned. Ann just stared at the document without saying anything. I waited patiently, wondering if there was something on the document she didn’t understand or was unhappy with. And then she looked up, eyes sparkling, and exclaimed, “I can’t believe this is me!”

I left that meeting with Ann thrilled that I had given her the opportunity to see herself in a new light. Yet, at the same time, I was also surprised that Ann really had no idea what she had accomplished over the last few years. I think part of my surprise came from the fact that Ann still lived at home, had a very close relationship with her mother, and, in fact, did a lot of volunteering with her mother. I would have thought that Ann’s mom would have pointed out to her all the amazing things she had done.

And then, I reflected back on my own history. My mom was my biggest fan. She was always there for me, supporting me, encouraging me. Always telling me how proud she was of me, how terrific I was. My mom was so generous with her praise, that after a while, it began to hold less and less meaning. Eventually, it got to the point where my immediate reaction to any praise or complement was an unspoken “Of course you think that, you’re my mom. You have to say those things.” On the other hand, if a complete stranger came up to me and complimented me on the very same thing as my mother, my reaction would be totally different. I would be like, “Wow! Did you hear that mom? Did you hear what she said! Cool!”

And that’s when I finally understood Ann. Her mom probably did tell her how proud she was of her, how amazing her accomplishments were, and how she had so much to offer an employer. But just like I once did, Ann probably dismissed her words as biased, based more on love than reality. It took someone else – someone outside her family, someone with no personal investment – to show Ann what she had accomplished and what she had to offer.

Parents, if you’re going through this with your college students, take heart. Don’t be offended if your children seem to be placing more value on what others say rather than your opinion. On the contrary, encourage them to seek input from others. You know how amazing they are. Now they need to have it confirmed from the larger world around them. Continue to be there for them; offer support and encouragement when they need it. But also encourage them to take a fresh look at themselves through the eyes of others. Like Ann, your children may see themselves in ways they never imagined before.

*This article was first published on UniversityParent.com

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